COVID-19 & Animals: What The Public Does And Doesn’t Know
The current project was designed to gather information for animal welfare organizations in light of the current outbreak of COVID-19 (also referred to as the novel coronavirus). We asked advocates to submit survey ideas in order to determine what information would best help the organizations who make up our audience. We combined those ideas into a set of questions to administer as a poll in the U.S.
Origins Of COVID-19
Before diving into respondents’ understanding of COVID-19, it is important to be clear on the scientific community’s understanding. The latest and most reliable scientific evidence indicates that the virus likely originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China (Riou & Althaus, 2020). Wet markets sell both live and dead animals from wild and farmed sources. They bring humans and animals into close proximity, providing a way for viruses to jump from species to species, as has also been observed in previous outbreaks (Woo, Lau, & Yuen, 2006).
Many rumors about COVID-19 are circulating online and in less-reputable news sources, so Faunalytics wants to remind our readers of how important it is to rely on unbiased media and scientific reporting. Faunalytics is one such source, as the articles that are published in our library come from academic journals, and we vet the stories we share on social media.
For other sources, we know it can be hard to know who to trust. Our research team recommends using Media Bias/Fact Check to help you figure it out–it’s what we ourselves use. They provide a simple rating for each news source, but also a detailed Methodology section fully outlining how they arrive at their ratings so that you can see that they themselves are not biased.
- Only 10 to 20% of people in the U.S. understand the zoonotic (animal-to-human) origins of the novel coronavirus. Without additional cues, only 16% of survey respondents mentioned the wet market conditions that allowed the virus to jump from species to species. Even on true/false items, fewer than one third correctly indicated that the virus spread because animals were kept in very close quarters.
- A paragraph outlining the link between animal agriculture and the outbreak was seen as convincing and logical by the majority of participants. Given the lack of understanding described above, education about how the treatment of animals relates to human disease is clearly needed. These results show that a carefully-presented, factual argument can be convincing. That said, caution is strongly indicated, because a substantial minority of respondents found the argument misleading, annoying, or offensive–even in the absence of an advocacy message like “go veg” or “reduce your meat consumption.” Moving from education to advocacy increases the risk of reactance (backfire effects).
- There is moderate support for legislation that would protect both animals and human health. Substantial proportions (42 to 43%) of respondents support restrictions on agriculture and trade to prevent future outbreaks of disease. Opposition was the strongest (35%) to the idea of banning any type of animal farming that has been linked to a serious human disease outbreak, but only 27% were opposed to restrictions on animal agriculture to help prevent future pandemics.
- Most people believe animal shelters and sanctuaries should be considered essential services. Whether shelters and sanctuaries are ruled essential or not currently depends on jurisdiction, but 59% of U.S. respondents believe that they should be, with only 15% opposed. This did not differ by region.
- Very few people are aware of the threats to life faced by animals used in research or those who depend on tourists for food. However, almost all respondents were aware that companion animals are not generally spreading the virus.
- Unless food availability changes in the coming weeks, we should not expect overall animal product consumption to change substantially because of COVID-19, although some individuals may shift their behavior. The proportions of people who said they are more likely to try plant-based eating or reduce their meat consumption because of the pandemic were similar to the proportion who said they were less likely to do so because of the pandemic, suggesting that average consumption is likely to remain similar.
- In a time of pandemic, some people are more likely to donate to animal charities, some are less likely. Roughly equal proportions of respondents said they were more and less likely to donate to an animal charity because of the pandemic. Respondents also claimed that they were more likely than usual to donate to charity because of the pandemic, but we should treat these claims with skepticism, as data from the 2008 recession suggests that overall donations are likely to decrease substantially (Reich & Wimer, 2012). There may also be more targeting of donations toward poverty-related causes, which could divert funding away from animal charities.
This project was led by Faunalytics’ Research Scientist, Tom Beggs (MA), and supervised/co-authored by Faunalytics’ Research Director, Dr. Jo Anderson.
We are very grateful to everyone who submitted suggestions for this poll. We hope the findings are useful to all of you.